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“The World” of Ferrater Mora as seen in his Novels

One of the most commonly asked questions about a novel is: What is it about? What is the plot? What happens? Such questions are not surprising for during the development of the novel as a literary form, plot was very important. Traditional novels still have plots. In many contemporary novels, however, there is no plot as such. If we ask the apparently simple question: "Is there a plot in the novels of Ferrater Mora?" we find that the query is, after all, not so simple, for we discover that if we answer affirmatively, we will have difficulties in describing the plot in at least some of his novels.

What happens in Claudia, mi Claudia? Almost everything and yet nothing. On the one hand, we have what looks like an adventure story: seductive terrorist outsmarts police and assassinates the chief of the secret service. Yet this would be a very one-sided description of Claudia, mi Claudia. On the other hand, it would be equally deficient to describe this book as simply the musings of a man who sits in his cellar observing the outside world through his television monitor. What gives Claudia, mi Claudia its unique flavor is that it consists not only of the character of the Observer, but also of the activities that take place "out there" in the world. Claudia, mi Claudia is the interplay of both "worlds." It is when this interplay is no longer possible, when for all intents and purposes the outside world disappears, that the Observer finds his life has lost its taste, and he begins to withdraw into himself. In the end of the novel, it is not that the Observer is observed by another television monitor, it is rather that his world has receded even further. When his television monitor is focused on the almost blank wall in front of his house, it reveals a second television monitor that is viewing—not him—but the almost ant-like people inside the building opposite, walking back and forth in what is probably a gigantic bank—or perhaps a large office conglomerate. What the second television displays is so far from the Observer that he cannot see it clearly—it is a distant world, like the distant world of the blue cascades.

Similarly, it is difficult to describe the plot of Hecho en Corona, (Made in Corona). In the first place, it is not at all clear that there is a plot, although it is true that all sorts of things happen. RR wants to write about his native island, is given the papers of Stanley Clothier who, sent to Corona by his boss, Phil Ward, to write an article for an American journal, is gruesomely murdered. Refusing to hand over Clothier's notes to the secret agency because he wants to incorporate them into his novel, RR is also murdered, but not before he sends his novel to Phil Ward in New York, who introduces the novel of the year—a Coronarian novel—at a grand reception. Ward, however, tells intimates that this is really the literary fraud of the century. Is this rather complicated series of events the plot of the book? We have to answer both yes and no. What is particularly intriguing about Hecho en Corona is the "shifts in reality." Ferrater Mora, of course, is the author of the book, but in the very first paragraph, we are told that the pages that follow are the work of RR who is going to write about a real place, one that actually exists. What we have from the very beginning, then, once we enter into the novel, is a fictional character who asserts that he is writing about a real island and that he is going to use his friends as characters in his novel, disguising them by changing their names. In this manner, Tania becomes Ofelia, Rodolfo Marchesi becomes Christian Gerlach and so forth. So now we have a fictional character writing about his "real" friends. Are we to believe that Tania is real, but Ofelia fictitious? Is Ofelia a fiction of a fiction whatever that might be? Furthermore, it is not at all certain who has written what; although it looks as if RR has written the first, second and fourth chapters, he certainly could not have written the sixth chapter for it describes him from another's point of view. The latter chapter seems to consist of Stanley Clothier's notes, but once we reach the last chapter, we hear Phil Ward say that RR was a miserable writer and that he, Phil Ward, had to edit very heavily—really to rewrite—the material send to him by RR, which was either RR's own material, or Stanley Clothier's material rewritten by RR. In the end, we really do not know who is the author of the book of the year introduced in New York, but of course, the reader knows that RR does not really exist and that no island can be seen east of New York at latitude 10 and longitude 4. Reading Hecho en Corona is like looking at the infinite images reflected in a pair of mirrors. Just as Claudia, mi Claudia is the interplay between the world of the Observer and the world outside his window, so here the novel is the shifting "reality" of RR's novel, his experiences, the notes of Clothier, the edited and re-edited novel of Phil Ward and finally, the relation of all these "worlds" to the world known by the reader. In the end, we find that we are involved in what can only be described as layers of reality that merge with each other and emerge from each other. This is what gives the novel its originality and uniqueness.

One could easily show that one of the themes of both Claudia, mi Claudia and Hecho en Corona— indeed all of Ferrater Mora's novels—is the play between appearance and reality. It is perhaps not generally known, but at one time Ferrater Mora toyed with the idea of writing Claudia, mi Claudia under a pseudonym precisely so that it would be accepted as a novelist's novel rather than as a philosopher's novel. He had planned to write a Preface to Claudia, mi Claudia and indeed, he actually wrote such a preface signing it with his own name. In the Preface he asserted that Claudia, mi Claudia was a splendid first novel written by a young linguist named Ricardo Corbin whom Ferrater had by chance met at the University of Pennsylvania, near Ferrater Mora's own home outside of Philadelphia. For a number of reasons, this duplicitous scheme was never carried any further, but apparently Ferrater remained fascinated by what we might call "the search for truth".

El Juego de la verdad (The Game of Truth) is just that, a game of truth. We are never sure who is telling the truth for we are dealing with someone who retracts his original statement and then retracts his retraction so that in the end we do not know precisely what is true.

Many of these comments could be made about Ferrater Mora's other novels. It is not always clear who is telling the truth, what motivates a character, or what is a dream and what is real. What is clear is that Ferrater Mora's novels give us a complex and many-sided view of reality; they create their own world. Whether this created world faithfully reflects, distorts, or reveals hidden aspects of the world in which we live is probably a matter of dispute.

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